Thursday, August 1, 2019

Rückkehr Nach Berlin. Kapitel Eins (Return to Berlin, Part One).


So, I make no secret of the fact that I love the city of Berlin. A year and a half ago Kath and I first visited the city and immediately fell in love with it. That trip was in fact my first time travelling abroad as my true self, a feat which was quite exhilarating. And I learned that German security is much cooler with silicon breast forms than the TSA.

But we fell hard for Berlin. The city is ultra-modern but also has some old Soviet grit too. It's pleasant in many ways that US cities are not. It's wonderful. Or wunderbar, if you will. As soon as we got back to New York, we vowed to return to Berlin again soon.


Tag Eins 

Since our first trip had mostly focused on East Berlin, this time we wanted to explore more of the West. We started out in Schöneberg which has something of a reputation as Berlin's "gayborhood." It's where David Bowie lived when he wrote and recorded his Berlin Trilogy. It's also where Bowie's one time girlfriend, transwoman Romy Haag, ran her cafe. It was a spot frequented not only by Bowie, but by Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Freddy Mercury, Lou Reed, and Mick Jagger.

These days the neighborhood feels less rock and roll and more like a basic residential neighborhood. The only noticeably gay thing about it that we noticed were a couple of fetish wear and sex shops. I did manage to find a record by Einstürzende Neubauten, generally considered the first industrial band. It was third record, one where they started to have actual songs instead of avant garde records full of construction noises. We actually spent most of our time exploring KaDeWe, which is a ginormous and beautiful West Berlin department store. 


Sadly, Kath would end up coming down with a bit of a cold on our first day! So, we went back to the hotel so she could rest. Okay, at that point I was seriously determined to go out and explore Berlin. Even if Kath were going to spend the trip sick in bed, I was going out, dang it! It wouldn't be a long first night out for me either though. 

For one thing Berlin is further north than NYC and the sun doesn't set till almost 9:45pm! It was insanely hot out too. We had landed a during a freak heat wave and the temperature our first night was almost 100F. Still, I was determined to brave it. 


I ended up going out and grabbing a doner kebab, Berlin's specialty. The place I stopped in was around the corner from our hotel so it was full of Americans. I was determined to be better than the average American tourist though! Unlike the others, I ordered in German! 

Now, my German is okay. It's like D- level. I know about 300 nouns and maybe 35 verbs. From those I can construct enough to get by in most situations. When a German person speaks however, I can understand a couple of words a sentence. Usually that's enough that I can get the gist of what they're saying. Sometimes though, the German comes at me way too fast and all I can do is say 'ja.' That's how I ended up with mayonnaise on my fries. Unfortunately, my doner wasn't very good either.

I ended up exploring a little bit around the hotel. But I ended up frustrated. Not only was it super hot out, there didn't seem to be much around the hotel. That left me a little frustrated. My ideal hotel is right smack in the middle of a walk-able area full of amazing bars, shops, and restaurants. We were next to a the remains of a bombed out train station and that seemed to be about it. So I ended up grabbing a couple beers and some Haribo at a tabac and turning in a little early. 


Tag Zwei

The next day we got up fairly early because Kath had gotten us tickets to a history tour for my birthday. I started my vacation a little unhappy with my appearance. The first thing was that I had dyed my hair right before the trip. I thought it would be a lovely red but it turned out to be a kinda gross orange. It was too late to change it. On top of that, my whole body was itchy and red. I thought it might be because I wasn't drinking as much water as I was used to. So I tried copious amounts of lotion. It didn't fix it. So I was stuck with orange hair and reddish skin. It was a combination I didn't like on me.

As the trip went on, my skin got worse. It even started breaking out in little red bumps. I searched online but nothing was helpful. Apparently every single skin issue in the world can cause little red bumps and itchiness. I figured it wasn't scabies or bed bugs since Kath was immune. I started to suspect that it was an allergic reaction to my hair dye. On top of that my first day's exploration had left me seriously sun burnt. The only foundation I had brought was my super pale gothy one. On my darker skin it looked like clown makeup. So, I ended up not really taking too many photos on this trip. Mostly because I looked terrible and wasn't confident in my apperance.


Our tour was a walking tour about Third Reich history. A part of me felt really embarrassed by this. I imagined Germans overhearing the tour guide talk to us Americans, and looking down on for being obsessed with Hitler and the Nazis. I thought they would judge us for being interested in that. So I was a bit apprehensive at first. 


But one fun thing about the tour was that it started at the Zoo Bahnhof. I knew a little bit about this station because of the West German book and movie Christiane: Wir Kinder Vom Zoo Bahnhof. Sometimes called "The German Trainspotting," it's the semi-true story of a young teenage girl who is involved in drugs and prostitution in 1970s West Berlin. 

The tour turned out to be really interesting. We saw the spot where the July 20 conspirators of the Schwarze Kapelle (the Black Orchestra) were killed after launching an unsuccessful coup to oust Hitler. We saw several memorials to the victims of the Nazis as well as the apartment complex parking lot which was the site of Hitler's bunker. We saw the exact spot where Hitler ended up in a ditch covered in petrol on fire. 


After the tour ended at 2pm, we found a small cafe to eat lunch. We had pork schnitzel. It was the first of our many "brown food" meals. Kath, you see, loves German food. But, most German food is nothing more than meat and potatoes. It can be a little boring. Thankfully though, good beer is plentiful. And everywhere in Germany has kristalweiss, which is my favorite beer.

Right as we started on our lunch a huge thunderstorm erupted. We ended up sitting out under the awning and drinking beer after beer waiting for the storm to subside. It took a couple hours, but thankfully the staff didn't mind.

With a tiny bit of rain still drizzling down, we went around the corner to the Mall of Berlin so I could buy some toiletries. Personally I hate the 3oz rule when it comes to air travel. It means that right after arrival I always need to find a spot to get some basics including some new foundation.

We ended the night at Lardons, a little restaurant in Prenzlaur Berg. A friend of mine from high school lives in the neighborhood and is always able to recommend the best restaurants and bars. Kath got some summer asparagus. It's big in Berlin. Seriously. Seemingly every restaurant in the city was advertising their asparagus meals. Ham, hollandaise, and asparagus is apparently a summer favorite for Germans. I ended up having the best food I'd ever eaten in Berlin. It was a simple pasta was garlic pesto. But it had some serious garlic. It was super good!  Dinner also involved far too much Riesling and of course naturally we went to cool bar nearby for more drinks. It's Berlin after all.


Tag Drei 

Friday we decided to rent bikes from the hotel. It would turn out to be a great decision! Berlin is nice and flat and there are bike lanes on every last street. Riding around the city is wonderful. We were technically staying in Kruezberg, but it was on the border of Potsdamer Platz, Mitte, and Schöneberg. Okay, remember how I said that our hotel wasn't near anything? I was wrong. It turns out that when I explored the first night I went the one single way that led to nothing. Had I gone any other direction I would have run into some of Berlin's busiest neighborhoods. Ah well. It was good to learn. 

We went back to Prenzlaurberg, this time to explore on our own. Mostly we just bounced around from shop to shop looking for interesting things. In one little store we found a great print of a cat in an astronaut suit. Since we already had one picture of a cat-stronaut up in our bathroom, we figured we had to have the second one. Who doesn't want a cat astronaut themed bathroom right? For lunch we were weird and got pizza. It felt like we were cheating on New York a little. But the pizza was pretty good. 



While in Prenzlaur Berg, we also stopped in Kulturbrewery. It was a spot we had visited on our last trip but it's really cool. It's a giant former brewery which has been turned into a concert venue and office park. Wanting to escape the heat, we decided to check out the Kulturebrewery Museum. We figured it would be a small museum about the history of the building. We couldn't have been more wrong. 


Instead, it turned out to be an amazing museum all about life in communist East Germany (DDR). It was huge and its many exhibits were all about the day to day life of average people in the DDR. It was a quasi-Soviet state so everyone was assigned to collectives. Basically your collective would be made up of your company. So if you worked in the brewery, you would be in a collective with all your co-workers. You were expected to socialize with your co-workers and even go on vacations with them! An introverts nightmare! 



Good workers, those who met quotos and went to the collective's knitting circle or bowling nights, would be allow to go on vacation. And the only vacation available was a ticket to your collective's lodge on the Baltic. There was also stuff about how information got smuggled into the DDR from the West, how East German supermarkets worked (not well), and how the government encouraged everyone to spy on each other. 



Late in the afternoon, we biked all the way across the city. It was about 8 miles to get home and it took us through some pretty hairy areas in Alexanderplatz and Mitte. But, we wanted to drop the bikes off back in the hotel before we went out. That night we had tickets to go see Ex Hex in Kruezberg. Unfortunately, once we got back to the hotel we fell asleep! After our nap I was feeling sluggish and I not really up for a show. But Kath convinced me to go. Luckily there was a bus that ran by our hotel and shot straight over to Kreuzberg. 

By the time had gotten over there, the show had already started. But I didn't mind. Ex Hex is a fantastic band and its front woman Mary Timony is a legend in female-fronted music circles having founded Autoclave, Helium, and Wild Flag among other projects. It was a fantastic show and the German audience seemed really into it. They demanded encore after encore until the band literally gave up and said "We don't have any more songs!" 




After the show, we had find our bus stop, which was not easy as that area of Kreuzberg has a lot of diagonally criss-crossing streets and a couple of different train tracks running down the middle. It was late, after midnight, and for the first time in Germany I didn't really feel that safe. Because of my weird rash thing and weird foundation mismatch, I wasn't feeling comfortable about my appearance. 

Lacking confidence is not a great thing for a transwoman who's in a foreign city late at night. Plus there were lots of groups of young men sort of standing around. That always makes my transie-sense tingle. Groups of men not doing anything feel super threatening to me. All I need is one person to decide to call me out and a situation can go south pretty quickly. So I was super nervous. Being lost and having my phone's map app up as we wandered around only made me more nervous. Here I was broadcasting "tranny" and "American tourist." 

Thankfully though, we found our bus stop and made it home safely. We were exhausted and there was so much more Germany to be had! Saturday was going to be our big day. That was the day we were going to head to Leipzig for Wave Gothic Treffen, the world's largest goth festival!

Oh, and speaking of goth. I saw this dress in a window in Prenzlaur Berg. How beautiful is that? I only wish they had it in black. 


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